60-Second Science

Surgeons Try Cold Cutting for Critically Injured

A clinical trial tests whether induced hypothermia can allow surgeons to save critically wounded patients who would not survive surgery at normal temperatures. Erika Beras reports


On rare occasions, a swimmer can survive a near-drowning because cold water has protected their brains—even if they were submerged for up to an hour. Now a clinical trial is testing whether extreme cold can save critically injured gunshot and knife wound patients.

It’s called the Emergency Preservation and Resuscitation for Cardiac Arrest from Trauma Study. Lead Surgeon Sam Tisherman at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center explains that patients are not declared dead, but:

“They’d be close. They’re in cardiac arrest and certainly if we can’t get a pulse back they’d be dead. But we’re not waiting to the point where the surgeons would declare them dead. We’re trying to do this right before this, and find the best window of opportunity where our standard of care hasn’t worked but it’s not too late to try something new.”

Surgeons will cool the patients’ bodies to 50 degrees by pumping dozens of liters of cold saline into the heart. This induced hypothermia nearly halts all activity in the body and brain.

By freezing patients, the surgeons will also freeze time—giving them the opportunity to repair wounds a warm patient wouldn’t typically survive. Should the procedure prove effective, it could give a new meaning to the phrase “cold comfort.”

—Erika Beras

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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